When the state playoffs began for local teams in the spring sports, few would have guessed that the last team standing would have been the East Surry girls’ soccer team.
It’s not because the Lady Cardinals are a weak team or unworthy of their accolades, but the school’s own baseball and softball teams bad banner seasons that saw them win the Northwest 1A Conference title and grab the No. 1 overall seed in the playoffs in both sports, while the soccer team was actually seeded below a conference rival it had beaten twice, and had to face one of the top seeds in the second round.
After East Surry dispatched Mountain Island Charter 6-0 in the first round of the 1A state playoffs, Lady Cardinals head coach Neal Oliver said he thought his team could play with anyone, as long as they played as a team. East Surry’s second-round foe put that remark to the test, as the team had to make a 96-mile road trip to East Montgomery, a team that had been beaten just once all season and had spent the year ranked in the state’s top 10. The Lady Cardinals crushed them 5-0. The Eagles had allowed 14 goals in their first 16 matches of the season, and East Surry scored four in the first 40 minutes alone.
With eight straight wins to their credit, the Lady Cardinals have vaulted to No. 11 in MaxPreps’ 1A power ratings. However, they’re more interested in making some more history for their program. No East Surry team had ever advanced to the third round until they did it a year ago. Now they’re back, and have a chance to be the first-ever Lady Cardinal soccer team to reach the fourth round. Standing in East Surry’s way in Pine Lake Prep, who they will face this evening at 6 p.m.
The entire West sub-regional is a tribute to the benefits of tough scheduling, even if it produces a lot of losses on a team’s record. The Lady Cardinals (12-7) and the Pride (10-11) are the 16th and 23rd overall seeds, respectively, while fifth-seeded Gray Stone Day and 14th seed Starmount are playing in the other sub-regional game today. Many teams that padded their records with weak competition have fallen by the wayside in favor of teams that scheduled better.
Pine Lake is one of those teams. The Pride won each of its first two playoff matches on the road, beating seventh-seeded Mitchell 6-0 and then edging Highland Tech 1-0 in the second round. The team finished fifth in the Southern Piedmont 1A, a team that includes powerhouses Community School of Davidson, Lincoln Charter and Thomas Jefferson Academy. Six of PLP’s losses were to those teams, another was to 3A West Iredell, and another was by one goal to Christ The King, an NCISAA 3A powerhouse.
The Pride doesn’t have any individual standout like East Surry’s Mary Jo Lowe, who scored her 100th career goal on Saturday against East Montgomery, but it does feature a balanced attack led by seniors Skyler Giolitti (14 goals, four assists) and Savannah Reitz (10 goals, four assists), freshman Emma Schatz (12 goals, five assists) and junior Ryan Winseman (nine goals, eight assists). Eight different players have scored goals this season, and 10 have at least one assist., Unlike many local teams, the Pride has more than one potential focus of an attack, and the East Surry defense will have to keep a close watch on several players.
Junior Abigail Kidder has played all but 60 minutes of the season for PLP in goal, with 152 saves over 20 matches.
The match will definitively be the final home match in the careers of East Surry seniors Lowe, Carley Elliott, Laura Ruiz and Maggie Collins, who have already been recognized twice before, in the regular-season home finale and again after the first-round victory. East Surry is the lowest remaining seed in the 1A playoffs (because of its five losses to teams at 2A or higher) and therefore cannot receive another home game. But the Lady Cardinals will be glad to continue on the road if they can get past Pine Lake Prep tonight.